Despite a lingering wind chill from the weekend’s downpour, the Texas A&M chapter of Camp Kesem capitalized on a bright Sunday afternoon to host their second annual Messy Olympics at Wolf Pen Creek.
Camp Kesem is a national nonprofit organization that supports children through their parent’s cancer diagnosis by operating free summer camp sessions every year. Messy Olympics is the A&M chapter’s latest outreach and fundraising event, in which camp counselors and Kesem families gather for a day of slime pits, obstacle courses and water balloon battles.
Last year’s Messy Olympics focused largely on university students, but this year Camp Kesem special events coordinator Katelyn Lee said she wanted to focus more on the area’s school children to get a head start on the 150 kids they’ll be helping this summer. Since receiving the Camp Kesem call three years ago, Lee said she has not looked back.
“I actually transferred into A&M from a school in San Francisco because I really missed my family,” Lee said. “I moved back and I hadn’t found my home at A&M yet, and then I got an email saying ‘Love kids, hate cancer?’ and I said, ‘yeah!’”
Lee said she was taken by the efforts of Camp Kesem, though she never had a connection to the overall cause. That all changed a year ago.
“This past year my stepdad was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and that’s when the mission became so much more real to me,” Lee said. “I had an actual connection to it and I love my kids, so I get to see how they benefit from Kesem. It means so much knowing Kesem helps me and it helps them too.”
Camp Kesem co-director’s Jaiden Johnson and Sammi Buchanan said they may have different reasons for joining the organization, but events like Messy Olympics and the summer activities still to come assure them of their decision.
“My dad was diagnosed with a brain tumor when I was 13, so when I found Camp Kesem I was immediately drawn to the organization,” Buchanan said. “We just give the kids a week that’s completely free for them to just hangout in the woods and have a moment to be a kid, since a lot of them are having to grow up way beyond their years and try to deal with a very adult, mature issue at a very young age.”
Johnson said though she is not personally affected by cancer, it is the heart of her camp children and peers that keep her happily involved four years on.
“My favorite thing is the true bond, friendship and family that grows between the people of Kesem,” Johnson said. “I know it’s only one week out of the summer, but you would be amazed at how tightly people grow. These kids come back and they find people they can lean on at camp and now they have this huge support system that continues to grow with every new camper and every new counselor. That’s just one more person who will support them and love them.”
Beth-ann Rodgers, a Camp Kesem supporter, showed up early for Messy Olympics and provided help setting up because she said there is no better way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
“When someone is diagnosed with cancer it is all encompassing,” Rodgers said. “You will have days that are great and you can't tell that there’s anything wrong with mom or dad. You’ll also have days when you come home from school and dinner’s not ready or the snack’s not ready. Mom is not up for doing something because her body is so worn down from chemotherapy, or dad just had a radiation treatment and he can’t move like he normally could.”
Rodgers explained it is hard for young children to process these worries, let alone an adult, so events like Messy Olympics are necessary to provide children with “a day of normalcy, even if it’s just for a few hours.”
As a survivor of her own battle with cancer, Brooke Howard said Camp Kesem’s efforts extend beyond a week in the summer, as it is an entire year’s worth of love and support.
“This program has been a tremendous asset to our family and Fischer looks forward to it every year,” Howard said. “I think it’s amazing that they allow the campers to continuously come back. Sometimes I feel like maybe I’m taking a spot from somebody, but I know that my son is full of love and can help kids when he’s here.”